Grey Gardens Arrives!
- By Dennis Petrone
- Photos Courtesy of Center Theatre Group
One of the most haunting and fascinating shows of all time, “Grey Gardens – The Musical,” reveals new layers of the cult classic documentary that started it all. Starring Betty Buckley (“Sunset Boulevard,” “Pippin,” Tony Award winner for Memories in “Cats”) and Rachel York (“Kiss Me Kate,” “Victor/Victoria,” “Les Miserable”), the musical opens this month at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles one year after its critically acclaimed run at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, just a stone’s throw from the crumbling East Hampton estate where the real “Edies” resided. Along with Buckley and York’s performances, the production, directed by Michael Wilson (Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man”), is part of the Center Theatre Group’s exciting summer lineup.
“Bay Street was in the Hamptons where all of this took place and everyone knew the story. It was really very special. It was a small, very intimate theater,” said York who plays Little Edie. “One of my thoughts was, the Ahmanson, it’s such a huge theater. But this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us, especially the director Michael Wilson, to have a new take on this piece; he’s reinventing the whole thing.”
“Little Edie” and her mother, “Big Edie,” are distant relations of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. They become trapped in time, living as recluses, remembering a more glamorous era of aristocrats and cocktail parties, but still believing they were a part of it. So when brothers Albert and David Maysles roll up in 1975 and try to convince the Edies to allow them to film their day-to-day lives in a voyeuristic spirit more akin to what modern audiences might expect of reality television, they consent. Needless to say, America was spellbound.
“There’s a reason why there’s such a fascination with this documentary, with this story,” said York. “Little Edie was torn because in that time period, she could have more; she wanted to be an artist. She was groomed to be a wife, to be a socialite, to have servants,” said York. “She yearned to have an artistic existence. I think the musical has taken the documentary and given it even more poetry, enhanced the story.”
The Broadway debut, a decade ago with music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie and a book by Doug Wright, won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design and the Edith leads each won Tony Awards for their performances. It was Time magazine’s number one show of the year and over 25 other major media outlets included it in their “Best of 2006” lists. Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor was ground zero for the Wilson, Buckley and York trio. (The New York Times called that production “masterly.”) The Ahmanson Theatre allows for a telling that’s both deeper and bigger.
“We did capture the essence of what we wanted to capture in the first production,” said York. “We’re looking at it a year later with fresh people and fresh eyes. We’re able to improve on what we did the first time. For example, we’re able to show more than just the inside of the house; we’re able to show the outside too.”
“Grey Gardens – The Musical” draws an intimate portrait of two women from a different era. It’s kind in its treatment of them, while not shying away from digging deep. Audiences will laugh with its embrace of camp and reflect on the rawness of the world with which the two main characters reside. While it fits neatly into the genre of a great American musical, it leans forward into a new artistic space. If you are already a fan of “Grey Gardens,” or are yet to be exposed to its charm and melancholy, catch a performance at the famed Ahmanson Theatre this summer. The talents of Buckley and York alone will make it worth it.
“Grey Gardens – The Musical” opens at the Ahmanson Theatre on Wednesday, July 6th.